What is Buspirone?

Buspirone hydrochloride, commonly known under the brand name Buspar, is an oral prescription medication in the class of anxiolytics. It is a prescription drug that is primarily used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Buspirone is typically used as a second-line treatment when a patient cannot tolerate selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are usually the first line of treatment for anxiety conditions. 

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Buspirone works by altering certain natural substances in the brain, such as dopamine receptors, creating a calming effect. It was first synthesized in 1968 and was initially developed as an antipsychotic. After failing to prove useful in treating psychosis, its anxiolytic features were deemed helpful in treating anxiety instead. Buspirone has become more prevalent in recent years due to lower risks of side effects compared to other anxiolytic treatments. 

Unlike benzodiazepines and barbiturates, such as Xanax or Valium, buspirone does not carry a risk of physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. However, given that effects take up to four weeks to be felt, it is not useful to treat acute symptoms of anxiety in the same manner as benzodiazepines or barbiturates.

buspirone and alcohol

Side Effects of Buspirone

There are numerous common side effects reported from taking buspirone, though they are usually mild and do not require immediate medical attention. The most common of these side effects include: 

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Nervousness
  • Excitability 
  • Lightheadedness
  • Restlessness
  • Drowsiness or tiredness
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Abnormal dreams
  • Mild nasal congestion
  • Mild muscle pain

Other less common or rare side effects include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Clammy hands or feet
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Impaired concentration
  • Diarrhea
  • Moderate muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Excess tiredness or weakness
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Low-grade fever
  • Coordination issues
  • Depression or mental health episodes
  • General weakness
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Uncontrolled bodily movements

Is Buspirone Addictive?

One of the key characteristics that have made buspirone a popular drug is its non-addictive nature. Buspirone has less toxicity and a lower potential for misuse than other anxiolytic, making it more ideal for long-term use in patients that need it. However, people can still overdose on buspirone. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness (especially when getting up from sitting or lying down), severe drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, small pupils, and loss of consciousness. 

Patients do not develop a tolerance to buspirone, which makes it less likely to develop an addiction to this substance. Buspirone alone does not create a high (even if injected), and there have been no reports of a fatal overdose on buspirone by itself. 

However, there is still a small risk of addiction due to the calming feeling that buspirone provides. This is true of all anti-anxiety medications, including ones with low toxicity and constant tolerance levels.

Can You Mix Buspirone and Alcohol?

It can be dangerous to mix alcohol and buspirone. Alcohol use should be avoided while being treated with buspirone. Mixing Buspar and alcohol can increase the severity that both drugs have on your central nervous system.

The use of alcohol exacerbates the central nervous system (CNS) effects of buspirone, leading to harmful drug interactions that can cause serious adverse effects or impairment.  

Side Effects of Mixing Buspirone with Alcohol

While taking buspirone on its own can potentially lead to a long list of side effects, mixing it with alcohol can make these side effects worse or cause new ones. The most common side effects of combining these substances include:

  • Increased drowsiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Severe headache
  • Severe fatigue
  • Vomiting 

Mixing buspirone and alcohol can also cause more serious side effects, such as: 

  • Slowed breathing 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired judgment

Risks of Mixing Buspirone with Alcohol

Mixing buspirone and alcohol can increase the risk of developing side effects, including more serious or severe ones. Additionally, there are risks associated with mixing these substances, even if side effects do not occur.  

Serious consequences can arise from drinking alcohol while taking buspirone, even without excessive drinking or alcohol abuse. Alcohol use typically worsens any CNS sedation, given that it is a CNS sedative itself. Drinking alcohol while being treated with buspirone is not recommended by medical professionals.

Treatment for Buspirone and Alcohol Abuse

Since buspirone is not a very addictive substance, there is less risk of needing addiction treatment. However, it can still be misused if taken more than prescribed, and problems can arise if taken with alcohol. 

It is crucial to get help as soon as possible if you or a loved one are taking buspirone and continue to drink alcohol. If left untreated, severe and life-threatening side effects could occur.

Outpatient facilities are typically good for a short-term treatment option. Contact a healthcare provider for medical advice on treating alcohol cravings or substance abuse while taking buspirone.

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Resources

Wilson TK, Tripp J. Buspirone. [Updated 2020 Sep 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531477/HCL

Rabatin, J., & Keltz, L. B. (2002). Generalized anxiety and panic disorder. The Western journal of medicine, 176(3), 164–168. https://doi.org/10.1136/ewjm.176.3.164

Balster RL. Abuse potential of buspirone and related drugs. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 1990 Jun;10(3 Suppl):31S-37S. doi: 10.1097/00004714-199006001-00007. PMID: 1973938. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1973938/

United States Food and Drug Administration, BuSpar. FDA. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/018731s051lbl.pdf

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Updated on: January 4, 2021
Author
Jordan Flagel
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